Tragedy King’s contribution to Indian cinema
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Tragedy King’s contribution to Indian cinema

Kumar lunged for complex characters, evoking multiple emotions in one frame

Tragedy King’s contribution to Indian cinema

They say that you can either be a 'star' or an 'actor.' One of the great things about Dilip Kumar was that he was that rare legend who was both. Dilip Kumar passed away at the age of 98 in a Mumbai hospital on Wednesday, where he was admitted for about a week. He was taken to the hospital after complaining of breathlessness - it was the second time he had been hospitalised in the same month. “He passed away due to prolonged illness at 7.30 am,” Dr Jalil Parkar, who had been treating Dilip Kumar, told news agency PTI. Dilip Kumar had been in and out of hospital several times over the last few years and had spent his 94th birthday in hospital.

Satyajit Ray described Dilip Kumar as “the ultimate method actor,” Dilip Kumar's resume contains many of Indian cinema's landmark, genre-defining roles. His performances as the drunken, doomed lover in Devdas and the rebellious royal son in Mughal-e-Azam have been endlessly referenced by his successors on-screen. In Madhumati, he set the trend for reincarnation films. In Ram Aur Shyam, he established the twins-separated-at-birth formula. He became the first-ever winner of the Filmfare Best Actor award for Daag in 1954 and went on to win the award another seven times. Just one other actor has equalled Dilip Kumar's eight Filmfare wins - Shah Rukh Khan, who has often cited the older actor as his  nspiration.

A veritable cultural icon who inspired economist Meghnad Desai to draw parallels between his films and the newly independent India's tryst with socialism and capitalism in his seminal work, Nehru's Hero: Dilip Kumar in the Life of India, there is a bit of Dilip Kumar in everyone's life. He is a trendsetter as far as acting style goes and also a huge and beloved star of his time who commanded critical and commercial attention in equal easure. When Dilip Kumar started his career in 1944 with Jwar Bhata, the form of acting that the masses best appreciated was highly theatrical and stylised. He broke the mould with a more naturalistic approach to acting. He just came in and it was like a whiff of fresh air. 

Obviously, I wasn't even born when he gave some of his best early performances. But as a kid, I remember watching Gopi, Dastaan, Bairaag and Sagina. These were his 1970s films. We saw many of them on VHS those days. Later came Kranti, Vidhaata, Shakti and Mashaal. Dilip Kumar was
in his 60s by then and still, there was a lot of acting left in him. Yash Chopra's Mashaal (1984) had that famous scene in which he's crying for help, stopping every car that comes his way, as his wife (Waheeda Rehman) lies dying. It's an incredible cinematic moment that has become
the Dilip Kumar moment.

Gunga Jumna (1961) is an iconic plot in which there are two brothers, one goes on to become a dacoit and the other, a police officer. Dilip Kumar's performance as Gunga is a milestone in Indian cinema. There are a lot of emotional and tragic moments in the film which, in Dilip Kumar's rendition, reaches its powerful and explosive dimension. This is the kind of performance that every actor lives for. I remember Dilip Kumar's bittersweet scenes with Vyjayanthimala. Then, there's the emotional moment when he's arrested by his own brother. What I love most about the film is its realism and attention to detail. How the characters spoke Bhojpuri/Awadhi and also sang in the same language they spoke. Usually, in a Hindi film, a character may speak Awadhi but when he/she has to break into a song, the language changes to Urdu or Hindustani. But Gunga Jumna stays true to its script. Of course, it's unbelievable how authentically Dilip Kumar played the character of Gunga, completely immersing himself into the rhythm of village life, the motivations and the body language of his character. People call him 'method' actor. You have to watch 'Gunga Jumna' to know how he could live his role and make it his own.

Veteran actor Dilip Kumar, who is known as the 'Tragedy King' of Indian cinema, was a fun-loving and humorous person in real life. Dilip Kumar is well-known for playing the lead in tragic love stories. Some such hit films include Nadiya Ke Paar (1948), Andaz (1949), Mela (1948), Arzoo (1950), etc.

His heart-wrenching, but award-winning roles in films that had a tragedic plot earned him the title of 'Tragedy King'. It is also said that Dilip Kumar became depressed after a point due to working in films like Devdas. He was advised by his psychiatrist to take up lighter roles for his mental well-being. Later, Dilip Kumar was seen doing movies like Kohinoor.

To understand Dilip Kumar's method, the key is to observe his poetic silence. The pauses, pronunciations and enunciations he made, built a connection with his audience. Golden silences were typical to him. He expresses himself in the most understated way possible. His acting was reflected by his pauses and silences.

I think every actor has to be a mimic in some way. He has to mimic life, he has to mimic real people, what he has seen, absorbed and observed. Where do characters come from? They come from real life. The data you collect from looking and observing people is crucial to the study of any actor. That's how you go into a character.

Born as Yusuf Khan in Peshawar on December 11, 1922, the young Dilip Kumar went to school in Deolali, Maharashtra, where his fruit merchant father owned orchards. In 1940, Dilip Kumar moved to Pune and set up a shop supplying dry fruits and running a canteen. Three years later, actress Devika Rani and her husband actor-director Himanshu Rai spotted him in a military canteen and cast him as the lead in 1944's Jwar Bhata. Author Bhagwati Charan Varma changed his name from Yusuf Khan to Dilip Kumar and the young actor took his first tentative steps towards stardom.

Jwar Bhata, however, sank without a trace at the box office, as did his next film Pratima. Then his luck turned with 1947's Jugnu, which co-starred actresses Noor Jehan and Ruby Myers and a little known Mohd Rafi, later to become one of cinema's most legendary voices. After the success of Jugnu came 1948's patriotic-themed Shaheed. Then, in 1949, the breakthrough Andaz, co-starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis, made Dilip Kumar a star.

A series of dramatic roles followed in Deedar (1951), Daag (1952), Devdas and Azaad (1955). In 1958, he starred with actress Vyjayanthimala in the reincarnation and revenge themed Madhumati. In the epic Mughal-e-Azam (1960), he played Prince Salim battling his father, Emperor Akbar, to save his romance with the dancing girl Anarkali. Crowned Bollywood's 'Tragedy King', Dilip Kumar was famously advised by his doctor to switch to lighter fare, which he did with great success in films like Aan (1952), Azaad (1955) and Kohinoor (1960). In 1957's Naya Daur, he played a tonga-walla dealing with industrialisation in independent India. In 1961, he produced and starred with his brother Nasir Khan in Ganga Jumna. In 1967, he played a double role in Ram Aur Shyam, the film that inspired later blockbusters Seeta Aur Geeta and Chaalbaaz.

During this period, Dilip Kumar reportedly refused the role of Sherif Ali in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, which was then played by Egyptian star Omar Sharif. In the Seventies, Dilip Kumar's career slumped somewhat in the wake of Rajesh Khanna's superstardom and the rise of Amitabh Bachchan's angry young man. After a five year break, he returned to celluloid in the superhit Kranti (1981) as part of an ensemble cast featuring Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha. He then switched seamlessly from playing the hero to supporting roles, starring in acclaimed films such as Ramesh Sippy's Shakti (1982), Yash Chopra's Mashaal (1984) and Saudagar (1991) in which he co-starred with Raaj Kumar and Manisha Koirala. 1998's Qila marked his last appearance on-screen.

During his career, Dilip Kumar formed hit partnerships with actresses Vyjayanthimala, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Kamini Kaushal and Nargis. Mohd Rafi often sang playback for him, as did Mukesh, Talat Mehmood and Kishore Kumar.

Dilip Kumar received the Padma Vibhushan, India's second-highest civilian award in December 2015. Home Minister Rajnath Singh presented the award at his residence as the actor couldn't travel to New Delhi due to health issues then. In 1994, he received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. In 1998, Pakistan awarded him the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, an honour he retained in the face of shrill objections from Bal Thackeray's Shiv Sena. He was
also nominated to the Rajya Sabha for a term.

Dilip Kumar, a.k.a. Mohammed Yusuf Khan, was blessed with unparalleled brilliance, due to which audiences across generations were enthralled by
his work.

However, the Indian football community remembers him as someone who took an active interest in the beautiful game and would often be watching the matches from the stands.

Former India defender Subrata Bhattacharya, who was also a part of the Indian side that played in the 1984 AFC Asian Cup, recalled his interaction with Dilip Kumar.

“Dilip Kumar was extremely passionate about football. On the field, when he'd come to a game as a chief guest, you don't get to talk much. But I had met him a few times off the field as well, and he used to love to discuss the game with us,” informed Bhattacharya in an interview.